Robert Downey Jr. Discusses Blackface From His Oscar-Nominated Performance In ‘Tropic Thunder’

Jon KopaloffGetty Images

Robert Downey Jr. is coming off a press tour for his most recent movie, Dolittle, and a lot of the actor’s interviews have delved into his resume, instead of focusing on his new movie. While appearing on the popular The Joe Rogan Experience podcast earlier this week, Downey’s role in 2008’s Tropic Thunder came up, and the men discussed the very controversial use of blackface in the film.

The 54-year-old portrayed method actor Kirk Lazurus, who in the film underwent a procedure to change his skin color in order to play African-American Staff Sergeant Lincoln Osiris.

The role has become more controversial over the years, with many wondering how it was even greenlit in the first place. Downey’s portrayal of Osiris earned him a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination and is considered one of the actor’s best performances to date. If the movie had never existed and Downey was offered the role today, it’s not a certainty he would take it, as he remembered on the podcast that he wasn’t so sure all those years ago either.

“When Ben [Stiller] called and said, ‘Hey I’m doing this thing’ – you know I think Sean Penn had passed on it or something. Possibly wisely. And I thought, ‘Yeah, I’ll do that and I’ll do that after Iron Man.’ Then I started thinking, ‘This is a terrible idea, wait a minute,'” Downey remembered.

“The other thing is, I get to hold up to nature the insane self-involved hypocrisy of artists and what they think they’re allowed to do on occasion, just my opinion,” he continued.

Later on in the interview, Downey said he really trusted Stiller with the direction he was taking the movie and compared him to Charlie Chaplin.

When it came to the response from his black friends, Downey said that 90 percent of them were cool with the role and said it was “great.” The actor said he couldn’t disagree with the other 10 percent, who didn’t care for his part in the film and found the use of blackface inappropriate.

“Sometimes, you just gotta go, ‘Yeah I effed up.’ In my defense, Tropic Thunder is about how wrong [blackface] is, so I take exception.”

The 2009 Best Suporting Actor nominations announced
Robert Downey Jr. is nominated for Best Supporting Actor at the 2009 Oscars.Featured image credit: Kevin WinterGetty Images

It wasn’t just Downey playing a dude disguised as another dude in the film that caused some controversy. Stiller came under attack for playing a different role within a role. Stiller’s character, Tugg Speedman, portrayed a mentally challenged man in a movie called Simple Jack.

Speedman’s interpretation of Jack began the downfall of his career in the film, and some Tropic Thunder moviegoers were not happy with the plot point whatsoever. Snowboarder Shaun White dressed up as Simple Jack for Halloween two years ago and was slammed across the internet for the insensitive outfit.

Dolittle is currently in theaters everywhere. Other upcoming projects for Downey include Sherlock Holmes 3 and All-Star Weekend.